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  • Obtaining baseline oil spill-related contaminant exposure data for Arctic marine mammals


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Environmental and Fisheries Sciences


Arctic Marine Mammal Baseline
Obtaining baseline oil spill-related contaminant exposure data for Arctic marine mammals
With increasing oil exploration and ship traffic in the U.S. Arctic, there is concern about the increased potential for an oil spill event in this region of the world. Baseline exposure levels of oil-spill related contaminants are lacking for marine mammals, particularly endangered or threatened populations (e.g., ice seals, bowhead whales). Identification of the appropriate tissues/fluids to assess recent exposure of marine mammals to oil components must be determined, as well as the type of oil spill-related contaminant (e.g., parent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metabolites of PAHs). To help address these data gaps, various matrices of Arctic marine mammals will be collected during subsistence harvests and from fresh dead stranded animals over the next year and these samples will be analyzed for oil-spill related compounds. These tissues will also be analyzed for additional oil-spill related components after the methods have been developed and validated. Under the guidance of NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources, we will collaborate with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop and test appropriate standard reference materials and control materials for these analyses to ensure that the chemical contaminant data generated for this project are of known and acceptable quality.

Data Sets

no data found

Research Themes

Habitats to support sustainable fisheries and recovered populations
Healthy oceans, coastal waters, and riverine habitats provide the foundation for aquatic resources used by a diversity of species and society. Protecting marine, estuarine and freshwater ecosystems that support these species relies on science to link habitat condition/processes and the biological effects of restoration actions. The NWFSC provides the habitat science behind many management actions taken by NOAA Fisheries and other natural resource agencies to protect and recover aquatic ecosystems and living marine resources. The NWFSC also maintains a longstanding focus on toxic chemical contaminants, as a foundation for regional and national research on pollution threats to fisheries and protected resources.
Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.

Research Foci

Characterize the interaction of human use and habitat distribution, quantity and quality
The ability to define the state of an ecosystem requires insight into the natural processes within habitats, and how anthropogenic interactions with these processes can alter ecosystems and marine organisms. A wide diversity of human activities -- land use and water withdrawals, industrialization and dredging, fishing practices and climate change (e.g., ocean acidification) -- directly and indirectly impact critical freshwater, estuarine, and marine habitats. To best manage west coast marine, estuarine and freshwater habitats in a sustainable fashion, it is necessary to map the spatial and temporal footprint of human impacts and review their potential biological impact on each species of interest. Measurement parameters will be developed to determine the full range of human impacts using spatial data and improved habitat classification.
Describe the relationships between human activities and species recovery, rebuilding and sustainability
Human activities play a major role in determining the status of species and stocks. Rebuilding and recovery therefore need to address how these activities affect their status. At the NWFSC, biophysical modeling is used to link specific human activities such as land use and pollution to habitat conditions, and then to link these conditions and other activities to particular life stages. These models can be used to quantitatively assess how human activities influence species abundance, productivity, distribution and diversity. Not surprisingly, altering human activities in some way is often necessary for species or stock recovery and rebuilding. It is therefore important to understand the socio-economic effects of alternative management structures. Gathering data on their economic costs and social impacts helps identify actions that are cost-effective. These actions will need to be resilient to potential changes in climate throughout the region. Research on how humans react to management strategies helps policy makers avoid those that lead to unintended consequences that can hinder rather than help recovery.


Arctic food web
polar cod is a key species in the arctic food web
marine mammals
Includes whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, manatees, walruses, sea otters and polar bears
oil spill-related contaminants
include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, alkanes, and dispersants


Oil spill related contaminant data for Arctic marine mammals


Species Balaena mysticetus
Arctic right whale, baleine a tete d'arc, black right whale, bowhead whale, bunch-back whale, great polar whale, Greenland right whale, Greenland whale
Species Delphinapterus leucas
beluga, buluga, sea canary
Species Odobenus rosmarus
Species Pusa hispida
ringed seal


Bernadita Anulacion
Catherine Sloan
Daryle Boyd
Denis Da Silva
Gina Ylitalo
Principal Investigator
Jennie Bolton
Jonelle Gates